Scrapping Lambeth council’s cabinet system; funding 10 properly equipped and fully staffed libraries – and axeing the planned demolition of council estates are among the proposals being put forward by Lambeth Labour’s ‘Momentum and left’ prior to this May’s council elections.
Some of the proposals include ideas already suggested by Lambeth council’s Conservative opposition at last week’s council budget meeting.
The proposals – set to be discussed at a Labour party manifesto meeting before the council elections on Thursday May 3rd – call for:
moving from a ‘leader and cabinet’ council executive to a ‘committee system’, “reducing the concentration of influence in the hands of the council leader”;
no demolition of council/social housing estates except as a last resort – unless demanded by the tenants/residents themselves;
fully restoring Lambeth’s network of ten libraries to the accommodation, stock levels and hours of staffing by trained library workers that they had until 2016.
“Labour has an overwhelming majority on Lambeth council, controlling 59 seats to the opposition’s.
“Yet despite this massive majority, it would seem democracy and criticism are often unwelcome in the Labour group, with dissident voices quickly stifled and removed.
“The ‘cabinet system’ further concentrates power in the hands of the council leader and a handful of full-time councillors and officers.
“We believe that a lively democracy involving all the councillors, the membership of the Labour Party and the borough’s residents and workers is vital to correct mistakes and win popular support for council policies.
“This input should extend to the council’s staff who, along with community, residents and user groups, know what is happening on the ground and know how services actually work.
“We believe this expertise needs to be drawn on through organising monitoring committees – criticism and feedback should be seen as a positive, not dismissed as ‘negative opposition’.
“The concentration of political power also clearly needs to be reversed. To do this there is a readily available solution: reverting from the ‘cabinet’, to the ‘committee system’, thereby dispersing power amongst all the councillors.
“But to exercise effective democratic control there must also be usable information about how the council spends our money and this is currently absent. “Too often, information is either withheld or presented in a form that is, for practical purposes, impenetrable.
“Another symptom of the concentration of power in the council is the employment of highly paid managers and consultants at the expense of frontline staff who are needed to monitor contracts and to maintain services.
“The People’s Audit found that during 2015/16 there were between 494 and 744 redundancies that fell most heavily on lower paid workers.
“During the same period the number of middle managers on salaries between £50,000 and £150,000 increased by 91. “We think this tendency needs to be reversed, along with the disparity of pay amongst council employees.”
The manifesto also calls for: monitoring committees of representatives put forward by the council workers/unions, community groups and service users to oversee council expenditure, and service delivery;
presenting the council’s finances in a comprehensible form and in sufficient detail to enable councillors and members of the public to form opinions on value for money and choices in the allocation of resources; and
ensuring the council is more accessible to citizens, establishing staffed, local contact points at which the public can make direct contact over the provision of services (for example using the network of local estate offices).
All redevelopment that involves demolition must replace existing rented and sub-market homes on a like-for-like basis.
Demolition of council/social housing estates should always be a last resort, unless demanded by the tenants/residents themselves.
All regeneration plans should offer existing council tenants the same or larger council properties on existing tenancies and at existing rents/service charges back on their home estate.
Regeneration projects should be kept fully under the control of the elected council and not handed on to Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs).
The tenanted initiatives on the Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill estates, that have so far been ignored by the council, must, therefore, be reconsidered.
Cease to declare households intentionally homeless when in rent arrears, where the root cause is the failure of the welfare benefit, Housing Benefit, or Universal Credit systems to ensure receipt of rent in a timely manner.
Fully restore Lambeth’s network of ten libraries to the accommodation, stock levels and hours of staffing by trained library workers that they had until 2016.
Halt the replacement of libraries, which offer cheap provision for residents of all ages and abilities, with gyms, which will require large ongoing subsidies and serve only those who are physically capable and affluent enough to make use of them.
Ensure that all uses are compatible with the function of a library, and libraries are not turned into multi-purpose venues. Libraries may, amongst many other things, be studios for yoga and other gentle exercise. They are most definitely not band practice rooms or keep fit or dance studios.
Other proposals in the manifesto – which would have to be agreed by Lambeth Labour party (and that’s another story) – include:
Bringing management and maintenance of parks back into the council (e.g.: from Veolia, City Suburban).
Reducing privatisation within public parks and their use by private companies for festivals and events which have damaging effects on wildlife and increase pollution.
Extend free school meal provision from just children in Early Years and Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 (ages 3-7), to all children in primary school (ages 3-11).